O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith


Geocentricity, Creationism, and Taking the Bible Literally

posted by Jason Boyett

Back in March I interviewed Daily Show writer Daniel Radosh about his book Rapture Ready! Adventures in the Parallel Universe of Christian Pop Culture. It’s a pretty great book offering a hilarious, honest outsider’s assessment of American Christianity. I recommend it to Christians and non-Christians alike.

Anyway, this weekend Radosh posted at The Nervous Breakdown an unpublished chapter from Rapture Ready! about the super-literalist position taken by a few believers who are geocentrists — they believe that young-earth creationists are liberals, and that if you’re going to take the Bible literally, you’d better go whole-hog. So all that Copernican stuff about the earth revolving around the sun? It’s bunk. Because that’s not the picture of the universe painted by the Bible.

Here’s a sample, which introduces Gerardus Dingeman Bouw, the nation’s leading proponent of geocentrism and the president of the Association for Biblical
Astronomy (ABA):

In 1992, Bouw self-published a 400-page book titled Geocentricity
(the ABA prefers this term, to distinguish its discipline from
classical geocentrism, which postulated a patently absurd universe of
concentric, independent spheres). Geocentricity lays out not
only a defense of geocentrism, but a reminder of the stakes. The Bible,
Bouw writes, is replete with passages that describe, in plain language,
an immobile earth encircled by the sun and stars; there are 26 verses
that speak of the sun “going down” or “setting,” and 30 that describe it
as “rising.” These are not mere figures of speech, warns Bouw. “If God
can not be taken literally when he writes of the ‘rising of the sun,’
then how can he be taken literally in writing of the ‘rising of the
Son?’”

Mainstream creationists (if I may
be allowed the term) argue that the seemingly geocentric passages are
merely God using the “language of appearance,” or divinely-inspired men
speaking from a human perspective. This is the liberal tendency that
makes geocentrists apoplectic. “Phenomenological or anthropocentric,”
sniffs Bouw:

either God inerrently
inspired the wording or He did not; either the Bible is trustworthy or
it is not. There is no middle ground. There is no room for compromise.
After all, both the anthropocentric theory of inspiration and the
phenomenological-language theory are forms of accommodation where God is
said to accommodate his wording to the understanding of the common man.
Good though that may sound on the surface, accommodation still
maintains that God goes along with the accepted story even though he
really does not believe it.

It does not help when, for instance, the
Answers in Genesis web site caps its dismissal of geocentrism with the
observation that “the question of the earth’s physical position is less
important than the spiritual reality of God’s love for his people” –
precisely what Christians who accept evolution say about the physical
creation of man. “It’s inconsistent,” Bouw told me. “you can’t say that
one part of it is more credible than another part just simply because
you feel uncomfortable with what it says there.”

——————-

I have to admit: I’ve had the same thoughts. Not that I’m an advocate of geocentrism. I’m pretty sure that was disproven a few centuries ago, and hardly any sane people question it. But geocentrism (and a flat earth) are described in the Bible because the biblical writers had a pre-scientific understanding of the universe. That mindset also explains the poetry and day-by-day chronology of the creation story. But if we’re supposed to take that part of the Bible literally, why not the geocentric parts, too? Why are the young-earth creationists fighting one battle and not the other?

Worth noting: in the excerpt, Radosh quotes a couple of the geocentric “experts” who reveal that quite a few of the leading creationists DO believe in geocentrism for that very reason — because it’s “biblical” — but they keep quiet about it because “they don’t want to be embarrassed in front of the scientific world.”

Both the young-earthers and the geocentrists base their beliefs on an inerrant understanding of the Bible. They say to do otherwise is to step upon a slippery slope toward atheism — but where does it start? Is it when you deny geocentrism? Or is it when you deny a literal 7-day creation?

Al Mohler has said
that you can either believe in the biblical account of human origins or
or you can believe in evolution, but you can’t believe in both. Couldn’t the geocentrists use exactly the same argument about the position of the earth in the universe?

The literal 7-day creationists posit that a lot of the problems in the world today stem from the fact that mankind no longer sees itself as a special creation, because we’ve lost sight of the Garden of Eden story. Couldn’t the geocentrists use exactly the same argument because we’ve lost the belief that the earth is at the center of the universe? Doesn’t that also devalue human life as the apex of creation?

I’m not trying to make a case for geocentrism. But I think logical consistency is important. If you’re going to argue that we should take the Bible at its word on how the universe came to be, isn’t the most thoroughly biblical position to also believe in geocentrism? How do the creationists justify their position but dismiss geocentricity as unscientific and embarrassing? Why is modern science acceptable for the position of the earth but not for the history of the earth?

So many questions. If we’re on a slippery slope, we need to decide exactly where that slope becomes slippery. Right?



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David Rooker

posted October 4, 2010 at 10:47 am


If we are to take the Bible completely literally, this position makes some sense. But I’m interested on the “Geocentricity” take on such suggestions as “If your eye offends thee, pluck it out…!” or even the command to stone young rebels in Exodus (or is that Leviticus?) I’m not sure it is possible to be particularly consistent or logical when it comes to our understanding of the Bible as it applies to our lives. We all tend to pick our poison in the swamp of doctrinal differences.



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Drew Smith

posted October 4, 2010 at 11:01 am


I think part of the problem here is defining what one means by “biblical.” Also, logical consistency is important, but one has to understand the varieties of genre within Scripture itself. As David hinted above, one HAS to take genre into consideration or else it is very likely people will miss what God is trying to say to them. I’m not trying to make genre the be-all end-all solution, but it is an area that seems to be neglected, especially in my evangelical surroundings.



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David N.

posted October 4, 2010 at 11:12 am


I don’t even know what to do with this stuff anymore when I hear about it. It doesn’t even seem real that people actually think this way.



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Jason Boyett

posted October 4, 2010 at 11:23 am


I totally agree as to the importance of context and genre in the Bible. Genesis 1 is epic poetry. Genesis 2 is narrative. The sun-standing-still story from Joshua 10 reads as history. Lots of the geocentric descriptions of a stationary earth come from the hymnic poetry of the Psalms (see Psalm 93:1, for instance). So there are multiple genres being drawn from in taking these positions, and I doubt that those who take it literally on geocentrism will also be plucking out their eyes to combat lust.
As for the term “biblical,” yes…it’s almost a meaningless designation. You can call almost any idea biblical, because there’s a whole lot of stuff in the Bible.



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Charlie's Church of Christ

posted October 4, 2010 at 12:22 pm


I’d be curious of those “setting of the sun” verses are in the Psalms – because those are poems – and so the writers were not trying to make statements about the planet and science – their intent was metaphor and something more related to the heart.



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Rich A.

posted October 4, 2010 at 12:22 pm


Geocentrism v. Creationism seems like just another biblical dick-measuring contest – who can be the “better Christian” with some kind of weird, bible truthiness metric as the guide. Beyond that, we seem to have this pressing need to reconcile the Bible and modern science. There’s an answer that reconciles the science with the Bible – both can be true – but we don’t even know what questions to ask. So, I’ll just add the reconciliation of the Bible’s creation story and modern science to the very long list of things I don’t understand and can wait patiently on to learn the answer.



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Karlton Kemerait

posted October 4, 2010 at 12:54 pm


Geocentrism, really are we going to go there. From an atheist’s perspective (even an atheist who spent 25 years as a born again Christian) this is about as absurd as it gets.
I hope they go more public with the idea, it will certainly put beliefs like creationism and ID into perspective and make it easier for the rest of the world to see how ridiculous they are being.



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Catherine

posted October 4, 2010 at 2:20 pm


The problem is not with Geocentrism but Bible-centrism. Surely the Bible is just supposed to assist us in our relationship with God, rather than be the only way we relate. I honestly think it is a mistake for any religion to put its holy book at the centre of its practice. It leads to the assumption that all the answers about everything are in a book. Here is N.T. Wright on the New Testament:
“The risen Jesus, at the end of Matthew’s gospel, does not say, ‘All authority in heaven and earth is given to the books you are all going to write’, but ‘All authority in heaven and earth is given to me’.”
(OK I’m probably quoting him out of context but this sounds like common sense to me)



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Danny Bixby

posted October 4, 2010 at 4:29 pm


“Geocentrism v. Creationism seems like just another biblical dick-measuring contest”
This has to be one of the best comments I’ve ever read.
You sir, win this blog post.



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John

posted October 4, 2010 at 8:00 pm


Try to define a fixed point in space. What’s up? What’s down? What revolves around what? It’s not as crazy as it sounds to say the Earth is the center of the universe. In fact, you could pick any single point in space and say it is the center of the universe. Personally I don’t care about who’s right or wrong. Scientific beliefs are constantly changing. At one point not very long ago scientists thought the universe was eternal, but have since proven that it had a beginning and is rapidly expanding – aligning themselves with what the Bible said all along. Always fun to read your blog, Jason. It’s a good distraction from real spiritual growth – like fighting over the biggest piece of monkey crap at the foot of the tree of life.



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Rick Smith

posted October 4, 2010 at 9:18 pm


As a scientist, I have tools at my disposal which can disprove falsehood. This means to falsify that which is not sound. Because science functions on this underpinning, we cannot prove truth, truth is simply what is left over once falsehood has been swept away.
In making an appeal to evidence, both young-earthers and geocentrists will have their hopes dashed thousands of times over. It is not only not worth arguing, it is an exercise is sheer futility.
As a Christian, I am not limited nly by the passages in Holy writ which back up one doctrinal position, there are many others which can be used as evidence that there are weightier matters at hand. Indeed to obsess over whether the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob intended his scriptural introduction to Moses to be a primer on planetary formation science is to “strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel”(Matt 23:24). Clearly, whether the bible is meant literally or not in these passages is controversial at best.
Better to spend one’s time seriously considering whether our lives live up to the measure of religious faith as established in scripture that has little if any symbolic meaning:
“Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.”
If our geocentrist friend had spent the aforementioned 400 pages of exegesis pointing out ways wherein humankind could serve one another, he would have made the world a more peaceful rather than contentious place to live.



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Robert Carnegie

posted October 5, 2010 at 12:40 pm


I wonder whether it’s important to distinguish a maybe-hypothetical opinion that the earth doesn’t move through the universe but turns in place. Because you can feel the earth turning. Well, you can’t, unless you’re Doctor Who (see URL), but you can build a Foucault’s pendulum and watch it happening. Or look up at the sky, of course.
I’m not sure that there are any real “flat earthers” left, in 2010. The last guy in the Flat Earth Society is dead.
It evidently isn’t true that every direct statement in a complete Christian bible is true – by “direct statement” I intend to exclude, for instance, St. Peter saying “I don’t know this man Jesus”, when according to the rest of the story he did. I mean facts.
This is very inconvenient, if you’re a rigid thinker. Sceptics since Laplace have been saying with some justice that “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence”, and the Christian Gospel is extraordinary. And now “It says so in the bible” isn’t sufficient evidence, because some of the things that it says in the bible are wrong.
Well, if you like (and you don’t have to do this), you can suppose that the bible is provided so that to believe any statement in it isn’t wrong, even if the statement isn’t accurate – but with another catch: one of the church fathers pointed out that declaring that things that ain’t so are fundamental truths of your religion, in science specifically, is not good witnessing. So don’t do that, either.
Basically, on science and history (for instance Noah’s ark), the bible is quite shaky ground: those are not subjects that you should be using it for.
Some statements in the bible may have become inoperative since it was written. I don’t suppose there is a verse I have overlooked where God says, “Woe unto Babylon, for I have smote it and made it an abode of the dodo only”; if there were, we would know it to be untrue now, because today the dodo is extinct. What may come up, I think it did but I haven’t checked this, is the type of ostrich that lived in roughly that part of the world, that seems to have become extinct sometime in the twentieth century. If there’s a bible verse that demands wild ostriches running around now, well, I’m not here to say that miracles don’t happen, but I think we should call it at least “unlikely”.



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GalapagosPete

posted October 6, 2010 at 10:45 pm


“At one point not very long ago scientists thought the universe was eternal, but have since proven that it had a beginning and is rapidly expanding – aligning themselves with what the Bible said all along.”
Many religions make the claim that the universe had a beginning; it’s an obvious claim; it is not one, however, that has been settled in the scientific community, regardless of your assertion.
Nor does your holy book say anywhere that the universe is continuing to expand; when your bible gets something right, it is sheer accident; nearly everything it says about nature is incorrect.



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